We Travel Hacked our Way to a FREE Trip to Costa Rica (Flights + Luxury Resort)

We paid $195.90 for a $6,343.00 trip!

My husband and I just booked a trip to Costa Rica for a week during spring break next year. For our resort, he paid $0. The same accommodations would cost us $1,603 out of pocket. How’d we accomplish such a feat? POINTS!  He used some of the points earned on his Chase IHG credit card. At the time, IHG was offering 140,000 points if you spent $3,000 in the first 3 months of opening the card. He’d also earned 60,000 on a different IHG card a few months earlier. Spending as he ordinarily does, he earned the points. He got the card just for the bonus, earned the bonus, and will soon close the card so that annual fees don’t creep in. 

I booked our flights, the total cost on Southwest Airlines was $0 for the flights. I did have to pay a total of $195.90 for our airport fees and taxes, which points can’t be redeemed for. Out of pocket, our flights would cost $2,370 each, so $4,740 total. I was able to book our flights using rewards points from the Southwest Business card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards card. Together, I was able to earn the 125,000 points needed to earn a free companion pass. My husband, as my Southwest companion, can fly on any Southwest flight with me for free until the end of 2022. 

I’m feeling uber self-congratulatory right now. I’m so excited to hike and explore with my husband. I feel even better knowing that we paid $195.90 for a $6,343.00 trip.

This isn’t our first travel hacking trip. In August our family of three visited Chicago. Using my companion pass and rewards points, I paid less than $50 out of pocket for our airport fees and taxes. Using rewards points from the IHG Chase card, my husband secured a hotel suite for the week, paying no money out of pocket, just points. On this trip, we saved over $1,500.

Here are some tips based on what I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Track your cards. 

We keep a spreadsheet with the details of each card, spending requirements, bonuses, timing of annual fees, date we opened and closed the card, etc.

  1. Begin with the end in mind. 

We knew we wanted to visit Costa Rica again so we chose airlines and hotels aligned with our plans. Figure out where you want to go, and make sure your bonus plans align with those goals.

  1. If you are travel hacking as a couple, consider splitting up rewards responsibilities. 

My husband handles hotels, I handle flights. In a couple years, we will flip flop (I’ll handle hotels and he’ll handle flights) so that we can rinse and repeat this process and earn these same bonuses all over again. Cards with bonuses typically don’t allow you to earn a bonus on the same card more than once every 2-5 years.

  1. Do not spend money you wouldn’t have spent anyway. 

We don’t consider cards that require spending $7,500 in the first 3 months of opening the card. We know our spending habits, so if a card requires us to go beyond that, it’s not worth the bonus for us. 

  1. Travel hacking with credit cards works well if you are in the position to use them responsibly. 

If you are not able to pay your credit cards off in full each month, it’s probably not the best time to play around with opening more cards. Leaving balances on cards creates compound interest in what you owe, multiplying that original amount over time. (Also, I recognize that hacking in the way I’ve described is a privilege requiring access to capital, financial stability, spare time to travel, and more. So there’s a lot more to this than being responsible.)

  1. Make sure your credit score is very good/excellent before opening and closing lots of credit cards. 

I’ve found that my credit score hasn’t been impacted at all. Neither has my husband’s. However, we have very high credit scores and know that even if our scores decrease a little, this will have no impact on our creditworthiness. We are keeping very close watch, as all travel hackers should, just in case our scores take a dip. Speaking of scores, if you are travel hacking, make sure to place a freeze on your credit at all three reporting bureaus. Actually, no matter who you are, you should do this, because it is an important step in protecting you from identity fraud. 

Postscript:

Do I feel bad for travel hacking? Hell naw. These companies have exploited Black Americans for as long as they’ve been in operation. For all the Black people that credit card companies have screwed over, this one is for y’all. 

A prime example of their shenanigans occurred yesterday when I called Chase to close my Southwest Business card. Upon stating my reason for calling, the customer service rep did the absolute most. She gasped, took a dramatic pause, and then sounding very solemn she responded, “I’m so sorry, this is the last thing we wanted to hear”. She then asked if she could offer me a $200 credit for me to keep it open. I said sure and we hung up. Now I have an additional $200 to spend before I call back in a few days and close the card. It’s a win for me, but that same tactic creates huge losses for financially vulnerable individuals. How many times have they done this and the person gets further into debt, or forgets the card is open and gets charged annual fees? How many times have they lured people in with bonuses and rewards, masquerading hidden fees and exuberant interest rates. They ain’t loyal, so neither am I.

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